A Memorable Birthday

Todd had finally provoked her into ending their relationship.  She refused to continue to tolerate his wandering eye and embarrassing behavior in public.  He tried to sweet talk her into taking him back but it didn’t work this time.  She was fed up with him and wanted a break from relationships.  She was just going to concentrate on her career.  Right now she was at her beach house in Devon, enjoying the solitude and the sound of the waves was very soothing.

One afternoon she was walking on the beach when she saw a stranger sitting on sandy mound, watching her.  She stopped and stared at him, wondering who he was and why he was there.  Curious, she approached him.  He stood up, his six feet plus frame making her feel small.  Well dressed in a dark blue suit over a purple shirt, he was extremely handsome and was most likely in his mid to late twenties.  “What are you doing here?  This is a private beach.”

“Miss Flanning, I’m sorry to be trespassing but I had to see you,” he explained.  “You see, my mother is a big fan of yours and she’s celebrating her fiftieth birthday this Saturday.  I was hoping that if you weren’t otherwise engaged, you would come and sing for her as a surprise.  It would be a real treat for her and most likely the best gift she has ever had.”

Lola was touched by his request.  “I don’t have any engagements this weekend so I will be more than happy to do this for your mother.”

He looked very relieved and smiled.  “Thank you, Miss Flanning,” he said.

She smiled.  “Please call me Lola,” holding out her hand.  “What’s your name?”

“Julian Mortimer.”  They shook hands.

“What time is the party?” she asked.

“At seven.  Here are the particulars,” he added, reaching into the breast pocket of his jacket and taking out an invitation which he gave her.   “I’d like you to come at eight.  By then everyone will be there.”

She took the invitation.  “I’ll be there at eight,” she promised.  “This is a very thoughtful thing you’re doing for your mother.”

“Thank you.  Every year I give her flowers or take her to the opera or ballet but this year I wanted to do something different for her fiftieth birthday.  I surfing the Internet for ideas when I came across a recent interview you had on the BBC.  And the thought occurred to me what a wonderful treat it would be for my mother to have you sing at her birthday party.  The only problem was I didn’t know how to get close to you.  Then, I remembered that one of my friends knows your publicist and he spoke to her on my behalf and here I am.  I hope you don’t mind and that your publicist doesn’t get into trouble because of me.”

“Don’t worry.  No one’s going to get fired or anything like that.  Besides,  I trust my publicist’s judgment and obviously, she believed that this was a worthy cause.  And I must admit that singing at a private venue is a welcome change.”

“Well, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you doing this.  My mother will be thrilled.”

“Are you and she close?”

He nodded.  “Yes, we are.  I’m an only child and after my father died, we became closer because I was all she had.  She doted on and still does.  I love her dearly and would do anything for her.”

“She’s a very lucky woman to have a son like you,” she remarked.

“I believe that I’m the lucky one.”  He glanced at his watch.  “I must be going,” he said apologetically.  He held out his hand.  “It was a pleasure meeting you, Lola.”

She shook his hand.  “It was a pleasure meeting you too, Julian.”

“I look forward to seeing you on Saturday.”

“I look forward to being there.  Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”  He smiled, making her heart skip a beat before turning and walking away.

She stood there watching his retreating back until he was no longer visible before she turned and walked along the water’s edge.  Truthfully, she was looking forward to seeing him again too.

Saturday came.  She opted to wear a black pant suit with a white sequin top.  Her only jewelry were a pair of pearl earrings.  After examining herself in the mirror and satisfied with the results, she grabbed her handbag and left the house.

Twenty minutes later she was driving up a long, winding driveway flanked by imposing trees until the mansion suddenly came into view.  Her mouth dropped open.  It was was magnificent and it reminded her of one of those mansions she saw in the show, Hidden Mansions or something out of a Jane Austen novel.  The stately home made her beach house look like a doll’s house in comparison.  She parked her car where she saw other cars parked and got out.

Heart racing, she went up the short flight of stairs to the enormous door and stared at the antique lion door knocker before lifting it to alert someone inside that she was there.  A few minutes later, the door opened an gentleman stood there.  She presumed that he was the butler.  “Good evening,” he said.  “You must be Miss Flanning.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Master Julian informed me that you would be coming at this time.  Please come in and I will take you directly to the drawing-room where they are.”

“Thank you,” she said, stepping inside and followed him through an impressive entrance hall with two side by side winding staircases to an exquisitely beautiful drawing room with antique furniture, rug, decorative walls, paintings, high ceiling, gigantic hanging chandelier and enormous windows through which light streamed and afforded one an unobstructed view of lush and immaculate green lawns.  She didn’t have time to really appreciate her surroundings as she was aware that there were over thirty people in the room watching her.  To her relief, Julian was one of them and he immediately came over to her, looking extremely pleased to see her.  “Hello,” he said.  “It’s good to see you again.”

“Hello,” she said, feeling a bit nervous.

“Don’t be nervous,” he said.  “You look very beautiful.”

“Thank you.  And you don’t look bad yourself.”  He looked amazing and very elegant in the black suit and black tie and with his hair slicked back.

He smiled.  “Thank you.  Come let me introduce you to my mother.”  Taking her arm, he escorted her over to the group.

“Which one is she?” she asked.

“The one in the wheelchair,” he answered, startling her.  “My mother has Multiple sclerosis.”

She glanced up at him.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want you to feel obligated to come tonight.”

“I would have come regardless.  How is she doing?”

“Her symptoms come and go in phases.  There are times when she suffers from fatigue and other times when she seems fine.  Right now, she seems fine.”

“Does she live here on her own?”

“No, I live here too and she has a live-in nurse.  Between the two of us, we take care of her.  I can’t wait to see the look on her face when she sees you.”

Lola blinked back the tears that sprang to her eyes and put on a bright smile as she stood behind him.

“Mother, I have a big birthday surprise for you.”

She glanced up at him.  “What is it?” she asked.

“Here she is.” He stepped aside while she stepped forward.

“Happy birthday, Mrs. Mortimer.”

She saw the woman’s eyes widened in shock.  “Lola Flanning?” she exclaimed, turning to look up at Julian.  “You brought Lola Flanning to my party?”

Julian beamed.  “Yes, Mother.  I wanted to surprise you.”

Mrs. Mortimer’s returned to Lola who held out her hand.  The older woman grasped it, her eyes welling with tears.  “I can’t believe that you’re here,” she said.  “Thank you.”

Lola covered her hand with her other one and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.  “It was my pleasure,” she said when she drew back, her own eyes moist.

“Yes, Mother, Lola graciously agreed to come and sing for you on your birthday.”

“I look forward to hearing you sing,” Mrs. Mortimer said, “but first, sit beside me.  Have you had anything to eat?”

“Actually, no, but–”

“Julian, please have Sophie fix a plate for Miss Flanning.”

“Please call me Lola and I really don’t want to put you to any trouble–”

“It’s no trouble at all,” Mrs. Mortimer insisted.

Julian excused himself and quickly left the room.  After he was gone, Mrs. Mortimer introduced Lola to the rest of the guests, some of whom were also fans and asked for her autograph.  They were excited that she was going to sing.  One of the women, remarked, “I was so relieved when I read that you had broken up with that womanizer, Todd Collins.  You deserve better.”

Lola smiled but didn’t answer.  Just then, Julian returned with a plate of a variety of delicious looking and mouth-watering smelling food.  Feeling a bit self-conscious, she began to eat it while the conversation kept going, touching on all sorts of topics ranging from her career to hot vacation spots and favorite charitable organizations.

After she finished eating and was ready, Julian sat behind the piano while she stood beside it and began to sing, her voice smooth and soulful as she belted out her popular ballads while the others watched rapt.  Mrs. Mortimer relaxed in her chair with a smile on her face.  Julian’s eyes were on her the whole time as his fingers ran over the keys.  An hour later, the room was filled with thunderous applause and after bowing graciously, Lola resumed her seat next to Mrs. Mortimer who thanked her, her expression one of deep gratitude.

“You’re more than welcome, Mrs. Mortimer.”

“Please call me, Olivia.  You’ve made this birthday the happiest I have ever had.”

“You owe it all to Julian.”

“Yes,” she agree, looking over to where he stood talking to a couple.  “He’s my pride and joy.  Besides God, he has been my rock through the rough moments of this terrible disease.  I don’t know how much longer I have but I hope and pray that before I go, I will see him settle down with a good woman.”

“Whoever she is, she’d be very lucky to have him,” Lola commented, her eyes wandering over to where Julian was.  Too bad I’m not ten years younger, she thought regretfully.

Just then Julian turned and their eyes met.  Mrs. Mortimer observed them and a smile tugged at her lips.  “It seems like I don’t have to wait long to get my wish,” she remarked and Lola turned to look at her inquiringly.

“I beg your pardon?”

Mrs. Mortimer.  “I was just saying that it has been a long time since I’ve had so much fun.”  That was true.  Tonight was a wonderful evening—one that she would never forget.  And she wished it would last longer but she suddenly felt very tired and she couldn’t prevent the yawn she had been trying to stifle.  In a flash, Julian was at her side.

“Mother, you’re tired.”

“No, I’m not,” she protested.  “Stop fussing.”

“You’re tired,” he insisted.  “I can see it on your face.  It’s after ten.  You should be going to bed now.  I will take you up to your room and Margaret will take care of you.  Please don’t argue with me, Mother.  Say goodnight to Lola and your other guests.”

Mrs. Mortimer sighed.  “Sometimes I wonder who is the parent and who is the child.  Very well, Son, I will say goodnight to these good people and then retire.”  Everyone in the room took turns wishing her all the best and made plans to visit when she was ready.  After they said goodnight to Lola, they left.

Lola took the older woman’s hands in hers.  “Olivia, it was a real treat for me to be here tonight.  You’re one of the most gracious and strong women I have ever met.  And it is my hope that we will see each other again.”

Olivia squeezed her hands.  “Have tea with me one afternoon,” she said.  “I will have Julian get in touch with you.  Thank you for making this birthday a memorable one.  God bless you.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Lola released her hands and straightened up.  She looked at Julian who was watching her, his expression inscrutable.

“Don’t leave,” he said.  “I will be back shortly.”

“I’ll wait here,” she promised.  After watching him wheel his mother out of the room, she turned and walked over to the windows.  It was dark outside but the lights from the house illuminated the grounds.  She had once considered buying a stately home not far from here but decided to get the beach house instead because it required less maintenance and she liked being close to the ocean.   She wondered what it was like for Julian to grow up in this house and if it was ever lonely for him.  As a child, she had lots of friends and family to play and spend time with so she never experienced loneliness.

She turned when she heard Julian come into the room.  He joined her at the window.  “How is she?” she asked.

“She seems fine.  I left Margaret reading the Bible to her.”

“Your mother is a remarkable woman.  I admire her.”

He smiled.  “Yes, I’m a great admirer of her too.  Her inner strength is all due to her faith and it was one of the qualities that my father loved about her.  Would you like to take a short walk around the grounds before you leave?”

“Sure.  I was admiring them earlier when I first walked into this room.”

They went outside.  It was a balmy night.   He took her around the grounds, showing her the tennis court, the swimming pool and the Garden fountain where they paused for a little while as she admired its details.

As they made their way back to the front of the mansion, she asked,  “Was living here ever lonely for you?”

“Sometimes,” he admitted.  “But, I tried not to show it because I didn’t want Mother to know because she tried so hard to make my life here as content as possible.  As I got older, life got better and attending university helped because I made lots of friends whom my mother invited to spend the summer and Christmas holidays.  I could tell that she loved having a house filled with young people but after I left university, we decided that we wanted it to be like it used to be.  So, we spend quiet summers and Christmases.  And that’s fine for me.  We enjoy each other’s company.”

“I can tell that the two of you have a special bond which I don’t think it will change when you get married—”

He stopped abruptly and turned to face her.  “So, she has been talking to you about my future.”

She nodded.  “Yes, she expressed her wish to see you settle down with a good woman while she’s still around.”

“Do you wish to see me marry a good woman?”

She lowered her eyes.  “It doesn’t matter what I wish.”  The thought of him getting married bothered her more than she cared to admit.  How was it possible for her to care so much about a man she’d only met once before now?

“It matters to me, Lola.  Do you know that all during the week, I have thought of nothing else but seeing you again?  I couldn’t concentrate on my work.  I kept seeing your lovely face.  And tonight, I couldn’t take my eyes off you.  You take my breath away, Lola…”

Her head shot up then, her eyes wide as they met his and her heartbeat accelerating at an alarming rate when she saw the expression on his face.  “We-we shouldn’t be having this conversation,” she stammered.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Well, because…How old are you?”

“Twenty-eight.”

“I’m thirty-nine.  Next year May, I’ll turn forty.”

He seemed unfazed.  “It doesn’t matter that you’re older than me.”

“Wouldn’t you prefer to be with a woman closer to your age?”

“I’ve dated women my age but I was never attracted to any of them the way I’m attracted to you.  So, the answer to your question is no.  I would rather be with you.”

“Well, you can’t be with me,” she told him in frustration because for one maddening moment, she wanted to grab the lapels of his jacket, pull him against her and plant one on him.  She was so attracted to him that it drove her crazy and scared her at the same time.  “I–I need to go now.”  She started to walk away when he caught her by the shoulders.

“Why?” he demanded, his eyes searching her averted face, his grip tightening as she struggled to break free.  “Are you afraid of what would happen between us if you stayed, Lola?  Are you afraid that if I were to kiss you, you wouldn’t want to leave?”  He was breathing heavily now and she could feel his body against her, awakening a desire in her that was so strong it made her gasp and then, his mouth was on hers, devouring it feverishly.  And for one unguarded moment, she responded wildly as she tried desperately to assuage the hunger that was raging inside her.

Then, she came to her senses and with supreme effort she pushed him away and ran to her car, panting.  She got in, slammed the door and after fumbling for the key, she put it in the ignition and the engine roared to life.  When she saw him coming towards her, she frantically put the car in reverse and then sped off.  As soon as she got home, she took a cold shower before she went to bed.  Sleep evaded her.  Her mind was spinning.  All she could think about was the kiss and how much she wanted him.  She closed her eyes in despair.   Julian Mortimer had breached the fortress she had built around her heart.

Three weeks passed since that night.  She was restless.  Her thoughts were filled with Julian.  Every time she closed her eyes, she saw his face and her longing for him clawed at her relentlessly, driving her crazy.  Sleep was fitful and it was hard to concentrate on anything because her mind was constantly on him.  She gave up trying to write the new lyrics and went out on the balcony.  The water was calm and she envied it.  The sun was high, bathing the sea and sand in its golden light.  Seagulls soared in the sky.  What a glorious day.  Too bad she couldn’t enjoy it.

Something caught her eye and she started when she realized that it was Julian.  Heart thudding, she ran down the steps and down the grassy slope to the water’s edge where he stood, hands in pockets, facing the ocean.  He was less formally dressed this time, clad in a white shirt and tan slacks.  There wasn’t a wrinkle of crease anywhere on his clothes.  As usual, they looked like they had just come straight off the rack.

“Julian, what are you doing here?” she called out just before she reached him.

He turned at once to face her, his gaze traveling slowly over her figure in the light green top and denim shorts, his gaze lingering on her bare legs.  “Mother wants you to have tea with her tomorrow afternoon at two–that if you aren’t busy.”

“You could have called or emailed me,” she told him.  “You didn’t have to come in person.”  Although I’m thrilled to see you. 

“All right,” he sighed.  “I came because I can’t stay away any longer.  I had to see you, LolaI can’t stop thinking about the last time we saw each other.  When we kissed…”  His eyes dropped to her mouth, his darkening at the memory.

“Julian, we can’t do this,” she protested.  “I’m much older than you.”  The truth was he scared her because the feelings he aroused in her were so powerful and unlike anything she had ever experienced.  What she once felt for Todd paled in comparison.  Her heart urged her to throw caution to the wind and give into her feelings but her mind resisted.

“Lola, please don’t let our age difference prevent us from being together.  Ever since we met, I haven’t stopped thinking about you and longing to be with you.”

“Julian, please…” She felt her resolve weakening fast, especially as he pulling her against him.  The expression on his face mirrored the emotions that were raging inside her, making so hard for her to resist him.  She wanted him with every fiber of her being but…Her hands came up to push him away.

“I know you feel the same way,” he persisted, his eyes darkening on her face.  “I felt it when we kissed and I can see it in your eyes right now.  Oh, Lola…” he moaned thickly before he bent his head and kissed her.

Powerless against her feelings and him, the hands that had tried to push him away gripped the back of his shirt as she kissed him back feverishly, blindly and with total abandon.

They entered into a relationship.  In April of the following year, they got married, much to the delight of Mrs. Mortimer.  Nine months later, she held Olivia, her first grandchild in her arms and as she smiled down into the red, crinkly face, she silently thanked God for granting her far more than she had expected.

 

Source:  NHS Choices;

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Trespassing

He sat at the back of the car, gazing out of the window, his mind miles away, when he spotted her walking through the fields.  What on earth was she doing there?  He tapped on the glass partition.  “Please pull over, Rodney.”  The car slowed and then pulled over to the side of the road.  “I’ll be right back,” he promised before he opened the door and stepped out.

Oblivious that she had been spotted and that someone was approaching her, she walked through the field dotted with bright yellow daffodils, her mind elsewhere.  She had a fight with Tyson and after storming out of his flat, she decided to go for a drive in the countryside to let off some steam.  It was quite by accident that she came across this field and on the spur of the moment, decided to stop her car at the side of the winding road and make her way through it.

It was very peaceful out there and it helped her to think clearly.  It was no use remaining in a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere.  She didn’t love Tyson and he didn’t love her.  They were just prolonging the inevitable.  She made up her mind then and there that they should go their separate ways.

“Are you lost?” A voice asked, startling her and she swung around to see to whom it belonged.

She found herself staring at a tall, athletic, extremely good-looking man, well dressed in an expensive dark blue shirt and black trousers.  He had thick, dark hair, a swarthy complexion and classic features.  He looked either Greek or Italian and in his late thirties or early forties.  A quick glance at his hand told her that he wasn’t married.  She realized that she was staring and that he was waiting for an answer to his inquiry.  She shook her head.  “No, I’m not lost.  I was driving by, saw this place and decided to stop.”

“You’re trespassing, you know.”

“Trespassing?”

“Yes, this is private property.  Didn’t you see the sign over there?” he asked, pointing behind her.

She looked back and it was then she noticed a sign saying, Private Property.  No Trespassing.  She turned to face him again.  “No, I didn’t see it.”

He was watching her with a suspicious expression on his face.  “It’s hard to miss.”

Clearly he didn’t believe her and her lips pursed in indignation.  “As I said, I didn’t see it.  If I had, I would have turned around and climb right back in my car.  I don’t want to get in trouble with anyone for trespassing on their property.”

“What’s your name?” he asked, surprising her.

“Do you want it so that you can report me?” she asked.

He smiled.  “No,” he assured her quietly.  “I’m asking out of curiosity.”

“Roberta.”

“Alexis,” he said, holding out his hand.

She shook his hand.  “You’re Greek.”

He nodded.  “Yes.  What brings you all the way out here, Roberta?”

“I needed to get away for a while, to clear my head.”

“Are you in some kind of trouble?”

“No.  I had a fight with my boyfriend, that’s all.”  Why on earth was she telling her business to this perfect stranger?  He was still holding her hand and his eyes were intent on her face.  He was very disarming.  Her pulse was racing and her heart was pounding.

“I’m sorry, Roberta.  I didn’t mean to pry.”  He released her hand.

“Maybe I should go—”

“No, please don’t.  Stay a little while longer.”

“But, I’m trespassing.  What if the owner catches me and—”

“Don’t worry about him.”

“You know him?”

“Yes, I do.  He’s a reasonable man.  Excuse me for a moment.”  He whipped out his phone and walked a little distance from her.  “Rodney, I won’t need the car for the rest of the afternoon.  See you in the morning.  Thank you.”  He flipped his cell closed and slipped it back into the breast pocket of his shirt.  When he joined her, he asked, “I’m going for a walk, would you care to join me?”

She hesitated.

“We won’t go far.  Just up to the hills over there.”

“Okay.”  She fell into step beside him.  The countryside was beautiful with its rolling hills and fields of yellow flowers.  “Do you come here often?”

“Yes, I do, especially on the weekends.”

“I envy the people who live in the countryside.  After working in the city it must be nice to get away and come home to peace and quiet.  And the scenery is breathtaking.”

He was looking at her.  “Do you love him?”

She glanced at him, confused.  “Who?”

“Your boyfriend.”

She lowered her eyes.  “No.  I think we’ve outgrown each other.   We fight a lot and we’re not happy.  It’s time we ended the relationship.”

“Ending a relationship is always tough but sometimes it’s for the best.”

“Tyson and I have known each other since high school.  We dated on and off.  Now that I think about it, when we were just friends, things worked perfectly between us but the moment we decided dating, things went downhill.  Now, things have gotten so bad that I don’t think we can even be friends.   When two people are not meant to be, it’s best they don’t force it.  We should never have gotten involved with each other but remained just friends.”

He studied her, his eyes taking in every detail of her features, thinking that there was no way that he could be just friends with her.  He was deeply attracted to her and the desire to see her again was overpowering.  “Are you busy this Saturday?” he heard himself ask.

“No.”

“The owner of this property is having a costume ball and I would like you to come…as my guest.”

She stared at him.  He was serious.  He really was inviting her to a costume ball.  Immediately, her mind conjured up images of people dressed as kings, queens and fictional characters.  She had never been to a ball before and the idea of dressing up thrilled her.  “I’d like to come,” she said, smiling.

He reached into his pocket and took out a card which he handed to her.  It was an invitation to the ball.  “Do you know who you will come as?” he asked.

She considered for a moment.  “I think I’ll come as Tiana from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.  I’ve watched the movie with my niece and loved it.  And it’s not every day that you get to dress up as a princess.  What about you?”

“I don’t know as yet.  I guess you’ll have to wait and see”

She glanced at her watch.  “I really must go now.”

“I’ll walk you to your car.”

When they were standing beside her car, she held out her hand.  “It was nice meeting you, Alexis.”  He had the most amazing eyes—they reminded her of rich, dark chocolate.

He grasped her hand.  “It was a pleasure meeting you.  I look forward to seeing you at the ball.”

“Thanks for inviting me.”  It was hard to keep a clear head when he was holding her hand and staring at her.  Her heart was racing and she seemed to have a little trouble breathing.

He released her hand and watched as she climbed into her car, waving as she drove off.  The sun was beginning to set, casting an orange glow on the field.  He cut across it to get to the manor.

All the way home, Roberta thought of nothing else but about Alexis and the ball.  She couldn’t wait to see what costume he would be wearing.  She could see him as a dashing count or a Greek warrior or even a gladiator.  She had just pulled into her parking spot underground when her cell rang.  It was Tyson.  “I’m sorry about today, Roberta.  I said a lot of things I shouldn’t have.  It’s obvious that we don’t work as a couple.”

She sighed.  “I’m sorry about the things I said too.  And you’re right. We don’t work as a couple and it’s time we parted ways for good.  I wish you all the best, Tyson.  There’s a woman somewhere out there for you.”

“I wish you all the best too.  Take care.”

“Goodbye, Tyson.”  She ended the call and slipped her phone back in her bag.  It was finally over between them.  They were both free to move on with their lives.  As she got out of the car, she thought of Alexis and her heart skipped a beat.  Tomorrow after work, she was going to get her costume for the ball.

Saturday came and she was beside herself with excitement.  Every time she thought about seeing Alexis again, her heart somersaulted.  She took her time and put on her costume and then examined her reflection when she was done.  The dress hugged her slim figure and the wig with the few curls cascading about her face while the rest was pulled back suited her.  She smiled as she adjusted the tiara, quite pleased with how she looked and hoped that Alexis would be impressed.  Drawing quite a number of curious looks, she made her way to the garage.

When she drove up the graveled driveway, she couldn’t help marveling at the impressive Victorian mansion that loomed above her.  A parking attendant came to take her car.  Nervously, she climbed the steps to the large doorway where two footmen stood.  They reminded her of Cinderella.  Music, voices and laughter filled the air.  There was a man at the door who asked for her invitation.  She showed it to him.  Heart pounding, eyes wide as they scanned the large room where the guests were, she walked slowly through the doors.  She recognized Queen Elizabeth I, Mata Hari, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill and a host of others but there was one person she was just dying to see.  Where was he?

“Hello there,” a voice said behind her and she swung around, her expression brightening when she saw Alexis.  “You’re not wearing a costume!” she exclaimed.  He looked incredible in the black suit, black shirt and no tie.

He smiled.  “The host isn’t required to wear a costume,” he replied and saw her eyes widen.

“You mean this estate belongs to you?”

He nodded.  “Yes.  All of this was left to me—the only son of Demetrius Yannos.”

“Demetrius Yannos was your father?”  Demetrius Yannos was the media mogul who was listed among the world’s richest people and was featured in TIME Magazine as person of the year.  At the age of three, the self-made millionaire from the town, Galaxidi, migrated to England with his family.  At the age of forty he married a beautiful English model half his age and they had two children—a boy and a girl.  Five years ago, Demetrius died of a heart attack while vacationing in Mykonos with his wife.  The story was all over the news.

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you tell me who you were when we met?”

“I wanted you to be interested in Alexis, not Demetrius Yannos’ son.”

“I would be interested in you regardless of whose son you are,” she assured him.

His expression became serious as he returned her gaze.  “After meeting you on Monday, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you,” he confessed.  “I’ve been looking forward to this evening all week.”

She swallowed hard when he reached for her hand.  “It’s—it’s over between Tyson and me.”

“So, you’re free to date?”

“Yes.”

“Good.  Let me introduce you to some of the guests and then, I’ll get you something to drink.”  Still holding her hand, he took her over to different people and introduced her.  Some of them were people who worked for him, friends and relatives.  She met his younger sister, Diandra and her husband, Thomas.  They were dressed as Cleopatra and Marc Antony.  Diandra was fair like her mother and very pretty.

After making the rounds, meeting new people, Alexis got a non-alcoholic Sangria for her and they went out on the terrace to enjoy the mild evening.  “You look very beautiful tonight,” he told her.  He was leaning against the balustrade watching her as she gazed out at the sprawling grounds below.

She smiled at him, feeling a little self-conscious.  “Thank you.”  Her hands were feeling hot in the long white gloves so she removed them and draped them over the balustrade.  Her heart leapt in her throat when he took her glass from her hand and set it on the ground.  He took her hands in his and drew her closer to him.

“I want to be with you, Roberta,” he told her quietly.  “From the moment I met you and we started talking I knew that I wanted to be with you.  Do you feel the same way about me?”

She nodded, her heart thudding.  “Yes, Alexis,” she murmured breathlessly.

He pulled her into his arms and kissed her.  Freeing her hands from his, she wound them around his neck, kissing him back.  In the back of her mind she thought how true the words that, One day you will meet someone who will make you realize why it never worked out with anyone else.

 

 

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The Vicar’s Daughter

After she had put some distance between Mr. Rivers’ property and herself, Dora stopped to examine her torn dress.  She was panting and her heart was racing.  She was lucky that all she suffered from her foolish decision to take a shortcut through Mr. Rivers’ property was a torn skirt.  He had set his savage dogs on her, “That will learn you to trespass on my property,” he yelled as she ran for her life with the two beasts in hot pursuit.  How she managed to escape the jaws of death, she didn’t know.  Perhaps it was the Lord showing her mercy.

What a mean man that Mr. Rivers was, she thought.  He was rude and always threatening to loose his dogs on anyone who dared to venture on his property.  She knew it was foolish of her to cut through his property but it would be getting dark soon and she wanted to get back to the vicarage before it did.

She had to catch her breath first before continuing on through the woods.  The dress was ruined.  Sighing, she sat down and thought of how she was going to explain to her parents what had happened.  As the daughter of the Vicar she should have respected Mr. Rivers and stayed off his property.  And she had always been taught not to think badly of people, no matter how miserable they were.  Still, Mr. Rivers irked her so.  She would have to pray to God about him.

She sat there for a while, thinking and then the setting sun reminded her that she had to head back home.  As she rose to her feet, she started when she heard the sound of an approaching horse.  She glanced around the clearing and her eyes settled on a lone rider coming toward her.  Had Mr. Rivers sent the law after her for trespassing on his property?  As the rider got closer, she recognized him.  It was James Hiller of Mannerly Manor where her cousin Mabel worked as a lady’s maid to his mother.

This was the first time she had seen him in these parts.  She stood erect, concealing the tear in her skirt as best as she could.

He drew to a halt beside her and dismounted the horse.  He bowed and she curtsied.  “Miss Baker,” he said.  “What are you doing out here?”

“I went for a walk and was on my way home when I heard you approaching.”

“It is getting dark.  Please permit me to take you home.”

The thought of sitting on the horse terrified her.  “Oh, no, Mr. Hiller, I would rather walk.”

He smiled.  “Nelson will not harm you, I assure you.”

“Nelson?” She looked at the horse and then at him in surprise.

“I named him Nelson after my uncle who taught me how to ride.  Come, let me help you up.  You needn’t be afraid, Miss Baker.  Nelson is a gentle beast.”

Still not convinced but because of his persistence, she allowed him to lift her up onto the fine steed’s back and then he mounted.  She held onto him for dear life as they galloped through the woods.  She was relieved when they reached the vicarage.

He got down and helped her down.  His hands were still on her waist as she tried to steady herself.   Her face was flushed and her heart was racing.  She didn’t know if the ride was the cause or his nearness.  Their eyes held for what seemed like an eon before he released her and took hold of the reins.  And she stepped back.   “Thank you, Mr. Hiller.”

“It was my pleasure, Miss Baker.” There was a brief pause.  “May I call upon you tomorrow afternoon?”

Her eyes widened.  “Call upon me?”

“Yes, I would like to see you tomorrow.”

“All right.  Tomorrow then.”

“Good evening, Miss Baker.”

“Good evening, Mr. Hiller.”

He bowed before he mounted the horse and rode off.

She gazed after him, hardly able to believe that he wanted to call upon her–the Vicar’s daughter.  She hadn’t expected to see him that evening or that he would even stop and talk to her.  She had Mr. Rivers to thank for that.  If he hadn’t run her off his property, she would not have stopped in the place where Mr. Hiller came upon her.

Laughing, her eyes filled with delight, she gathered up her skirt and ran to the house, anxious to tell her mother that a certain gentleman would be coming by for a visit tomorrow afternoon.

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